Editor’s note: On Sept. 6, 2007, Judge Harold Murphy dismissed the case, ruling the state’s voter-identification law does not impose a significant burden on the right to vote. Barring an appeal, the law will be in effect for local special elections on Sept. 18 and all subsequent elections.
ATLANTA Residents heading to the polls today to vote in Georgia’s primary elections won’t have to provide photo identification despite multiple attempts by state lawmakers to make such identification a requirement.
In revising the state’s voter photo-ID law last session, the General Assembly thought it had addressed a federal judge’s objections to an earlier version of the statute only to have the same judge again reject it as violating the First and 14th Amendments.
Still, the judge said his decision was not a condemnation of the idea, and supporters say they may try again next year. They could also continue to fight the issue in the courts, a battle which has so far proved a losing one for the state.
Russ Willard, spokesman for Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, would not say last week whether the state would appeal U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy’s July 12 ruling.
Murphy has not yet issued a written version of the order he issued from the bench, objecting to the revised law. But the judge did reveal some of his reasoning when he spoke at the end of the daylong hearing.
Creating a law to address a problem that has not been proven to exist is not illegal, Murphy said. Neither is legislation that is clearly partisan, he added unless it violates the rights of citizens.
Voter ID does just that, Murphy said. And while he commended legislators for “curing” problems with the original 2005 voter-ID law, he criticized the law as unconstitutional, violating both the First Amendment which guarantees freedom of speech and a person’s right to petition the government for redress of grievances and the 14th Amendment, which guarantees all Americans equal protection under the law.
“That is the failure of this legislation as it stands at this time,” Murphy said.
In October, Murphy objected to the 2005 version because voters had to pay for photo identification amounting to a “poll tax” and the IDs were not available at locations in every county.
Murphy’s ruling came less than two hours after the Georgia Supreme Court denied the state’s emergency request to overrule a state court order that blocked enforcement of the new photo-ID law during today’s primary elections and any runoffs.
Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, said he was disappointed that the law would not be in place for the primary elections and runoffs. He said the Murphy’s ruling was confusing.
“I do believe we answered the issues that were raised by Judge Murphy,” said Staton, author of the Senate version of the law. “I’m convinced that there is absolutely no way we can satisfy him. I’m of the opinion that it’s never going to be enough.”
Critics have said the law puts an undue burden on black, poor and elderly citizens.
But Staton said those who think such voters cannot get photo identification have a bigoted attitude. He said the process is hardly a hardship.
“If someone can get out and go vote, surely they can go out and get an ID,” he said. “If someone is in a very difficult situation and can’t get out to get a voter ID, they can vote absentee.”
If all else fails, Staton said he would support drafting a constitutional amendment on the issue.
State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, said the predominantly Republican supporters of voter ID are insensitive and disconnected from the lives of real, working people in Georgia. They could prove they are serious about the integrity of the voting process, she said, by attaching the same ID requirements to absentee voting, as well as phasing in voter IDs, launching an aggressive public education campaign and strengthening the penalties for those who commit voter fraud.
Otherwise, Thomas Morgan said she remains opposed to even considering the issue until it is no longer politically charged.
“For them, this is really about disenfranchising people that really don’t vote for them,” she said. “For us, it’s about protecting people’s constitutional right to vote.”
Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political science professor who studies elections and voting behavior, said the Legislature could and should go further to accommodate voters. He said every resident of the state should have a government-issued photo ID, but that it should be provided to everyone automatically.
“The kinds of people who don’t have a photo ID already are precisely the kinds of people who are going to have great difficulty obtaining one,” Abramowitz said.
“They don’t drive, they might have low education or low income, but they have just as much right to vote as anyone else.”